ELPIDIO ESTIOKO: Society of Philippine Surgeons in America celebrates golden anniversary

Happy golden anniversary to the members of SPSA (Society of Philippine Surgeons in America)! They held heir celebration just recently on October 21, 2022 at the Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

That was 50 years ago and I can just imagine my brother Dr. Manuel R. Estioko, MD, surgeon, cardiologist, and an active member of the association, rendering 50 years of service to the excellent continuing medical evaluation (CME) programs for their constituents. Also, while he never went to the Philippine missions, he was actively involved in giving lectures during the CMEs. Dr. Estioko was once the Editor of The Philippine Surgeon, the official publication of SPSA.

Pointing out the vital services to the community, SPSA President Honorio M, Cruz said: “Welcome to an event that many thought would never come, yet here we are celebrating something we ought to be proud of, our golden anniversary. Fifty years of existence, a half century of providing quality surgical care across the American spectrum, from the citadels of the Healthcare Institutions to the more distant rural nooks of he country, we were there!”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak and Las Vegas City Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman welcomed the surgeons during their convention.

“As Governor of the State of Nevada,” Sisolak said, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 50th Anniversary Golden Gala Night of the society of Philippine Surgeons in America (SPSA). I would like to thank the board and everyone from this great organization for choosing the fabulous city of Las Vegas and the great Silver State to host this special event.”

Mayor Goodman, on the other hand, said: “As Mayor, I am very pleased to welcome you to America’s most dynamic, entertaining and intriguing city! I am convinced that once you get a taste of what the city has to offer, you will never want to leave.  Las Vegas continues to capture the world’s imagination as the city where anything is possible. With world-class hotels, award-winning restaurants, professional sports, luxurious spas, fantastic shopping, the finest golf courses, and spectacular entertainment, Las Vegas remains one of the most electrifying destinations in the world.”

Meanwhile, Herman M. Reyes, MD, FACS, Co-Founder  and Founding President  of SPSA said: “Reflecting on the event surrounding our society from its lowly beginning fifty years ago to its current status as the pre-eminent surgical organization of immigrant Filipino American surgeons practicing in this country and Canada, the achievement of its members in creating a legacy  of medical service  of the highest order, their contribution to  medical education and serving in hospital committees, medical societies and civic organizations, oftentimes in leadership roles, is unprecedented.”

Indeed, for busy people like the surgeons who spent time to help less fortunate countrymen, are highly commendable.

SPSA recognizes the fact that in the Philippines, most of the people specially those who are in far provinces, lack access to health services because they are either very far from the nearest hospital or health center, or there are not enough or qualified medical personnel to attend to them. Perhaps, this was the rationale behind SPSA’s conducting medical missions in the Philippines. They need to reach out to these people!

World Health Organization (WHO) noted that in some Asian and Pacific countries, up to half of the people lack access to health services. This might be because health services are too far from their homes, or they lack qualified health workers, equipment or medications. This is unacceptable. Everyone, everywhere needs access to essential health services, the WHO noted.

WHO further noted that access to services isn’t the only issue. The poorest Filipinos spend around 60 percent of their family’s income on food. With over half of health care costs paid out-of-pocket, they simply cannot afford to fall ill: money that is meant for food will be diverted to health. This, too, is unacceptable!

“There are glaring gaps in access to health care,” WHO continued, “Whether people can’t afford to pay, live too far away from health facilities, lack knowledge, or suffer from stigma or discrimination, we must solve these problems. We must not tolerate those inequities.”

Having all these in mind, As I See It, the SPSA believes the medical missions have to go despite hardships and difficult times in reaching out to beneficiaries. One of the most unforgettable medical missions the association had was the 2020 PAAN Medical Surgical Missions in San Pablo City and Lucban, Quezon when the Taal Volcano erupted and the corona virus started to become a pandemic.

In the Golden Gala Souvenir Journal commemorating the 50th anniversary of the association, President Cruz narrated their very challenging experiences in going to their destinations. “Taal Volcano started spewing ash on January 12 at 2 pm as a level 2 Volcano Alert, later on progressing to level 4 Phreatic eruption producing ash fall the way down to Metro Manila and close to San Pablo City where we had one of our Medical Missions. Though it was the weakest classification of eruptions, it was enough to do much damage to the businesses near the volcano, requiring closure of establishments, evacuation and health problems due to the ash fall. It was in the midst of this volcanic activity, while we were busy packing for the trip to the Philippines. When we became aware of the situation with phone calls, from our three sons, quite concerned about our flight and the missions being close to the Taal Volcano, advising us to cancel our trip. However, there was very little chance that we would cancel the Missions unless conditions were too severe to continue, or the health needs of the poor in those circumstances increased more disproportionately. We did buy the N95 face mask to filter the ash fall, if we needed them. They were running out of supplies in Metro Manila.

Despite the flight ban in the NAIA on January 12, by the time we stopped over n Hong Kong on Janjuary14, the Flight Ban was already lifted, but the departure was delayed by 7 hours due to “weather conditions”, more probably because of the backlog of planes flying to Manila. Arriving at the Airport in Manila, there was a chaotic scene, as the facility was swamped with plenty of passenger arrivals, causing a delay of two hours before we got out of the terminal, but good news, Manila air seemed to be OK, no need for a face mask, but plenty of people were still using it.”

“We later boarded the bus to San Pablo City after 4 days, minus a few volunteers who cancelled because of the Taal volcano eruption,” Dr. Cruz continued. Upon arrival, the following day, they did the major surgery at the San Pablo City District Hospital with the cases mostly thyroids, gall bladders, and hernia and medical services for many patients having complications due to the Taal eruption mostly upper respiratory and pulmonary diseases.

After another four days, the group proceeded to Kamay ni Hesus, a regular stopover for their missioners, which have grown and developed under the guidance of Father Joey Faller, the healing priest.

The narration of facts by Dr. Cruz simply showed that the medical mission in the Philippines is better said than done. They did encounter a lot of problems and challenging times to be able to accomplish their mission. But, SPSA volunteers never gave up because they feel they need to fulfill their much-needed work to help our countrymen.

Mabuhay ang SPSA! They deserve the best accolade on earth!

(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments, email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.)